The Biggest Draft Mistake in Every NFL Franchise's History
Every year, in preparation for the NFL draft, teams spend days and days evaluating talent and weighing options for their eventual selection.
Things considered when deciding who to choose include college success, mechanics, size, injury history, potential, character, strength, speed, athleticism and talent, to go along with numerous other factors.
However, without fail, at least once a draft class a player turns out to be a bust. This could be due to bad judgment by the franchise, unfortunate injuries or just plain failure by a player to translate to the NFL game.
Every team has had its share of draft-day blunders, some worse than others. Here is a list of each team's biggest draft mistake in history.
Green Bay Packers: Tony Mandarich
In 1989, the Green Bay Packers made offensive lineman Tony Mandarich the second overall pick in the NFL draft. Selected one pick behind Troy Aikman, Mandarich was chosen ahead of Hall of Famers Barry Sander, Derrick Thomas and Deion Sanders.
Widely regarded to have the most potential of any offensive lineman ever, the decision by the Packers seemed like a pretty good one at the time, but by the end of his rookie season Mandarich was already beginning to look like a bust.
Mandarich held out most of his first preseason and spent most of the season playing special teams. With an attitude problem and poor performance for three seasons straight, Mandarich was cut in 1992.
It then came out that Mandarich had a drug and alcohol addiction, and he spent time in rehab before returning to the NFL.
Mandarich is now often considered one of the biggest draft busts of all time. He has also been suspected of steroid use, which may explain his rapid downfall following college.
Minnesota Vikings: Dimitrius Underwood
Dimitrius Underwood is another player whose name frequently finds itself on NFL top draft bust lists.
The Vikings have had their share of first-round draft pick busts, but having never played in a game for the Vikings, Underwood was their worst.
Selected in 1999, Underwood was a defensive end who held a lot of potential when he left Michigan State early for the draft. The Vikings took their chances and signed him to a $5.3 million contract before preseason began.
However, Underwood left training after one day and never returned, forcing the Vikings to release him one month later. He was claimed on waivers by the Dolphins but quickly cut by them as well.
It later came out that Underwood was battling deep mental issues, for which he was placed in psychiatric care following a suicide attempt.
Underwood returned to football, playing two years with the Cowboys before once again attempting suicide and being released. The troubled athlete also spent time in and out of jail for various crimes.
One of the sadder situations to have graced the NFL level, Underwood's condition has drawn criticism of the NFL for neglecting to reach out and help players battling mental illness.
Chicago Bears: Cade McNown
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Quarterback Cade McNown was the 12th pick in the 1999 draft after starting for four years at UCLA.
Despite his arm strength being a big question prior to the draft, the Bears still decided to take McNown. A relationship that lasted just two short years, McNown was traded to the Dolphins in 2001.
While with the Bears, McNown went 3-12 as a starter.
Running back Curtis Enis is a very close second for the Bears' biggest draft bust.
Detroit Lions: Reggie Rogers
Another player who battled emotional issues, Reggie Rogers was a defensive tackle selected seventh overall by the Lions in the 1987 NFL draft.
Rogers played very little his rookie season, spending much of his time in counseling for his mental health issues.
During Rogers' second year he was involved in a drinking and driving accident in which he hit a vehicle, killing three teenagers. Rogers had a blood alcohol content level of 0.15 and was convicted of vehicular homicide, landing him in prison.
Rogers returned to the NFL briefly and unsuccessfully following prison before his football days ended in 1992.
In 2011, Rogers was convicted on his sixth drunken driving charge and again sent to prison.
Rogers also had a brother who played in the NFL, Don Rogers, who died from cocaine poisoning the year before Reggie was drafted.
Seattle Seahawks: Rick Mirer
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Taken as the second overall pick in the 1993 NFL draft, quarterback Rick Mirer entered the draft following a very successful college career at Notre Dame.
Mirer's career did not start off all badly, as he finished the runner-up for Offensive Rookie of the Year, but things all went downhill from there. Mirer had just one season where he threw more touchdowns than interceptions, and in his four-year career with Seattle he totaled 56 interceptions.
He was traded to the Bears in 1997 but cut by 1998.
Denver Broncos: Maurice Clarett
The Maurice Clarett saga is by far one of the worst stories in NFL history.
A very promising back as a freshman at Ohio State, Clarett broke the freshman rushing record and led the team to a national championship. Unfortunately, Clarett could never stay out of trouble, resulting in his dismissal from the team as a sophomore.
In an attempt to challenge the NFL's rule that a player must wait three years after graduating high school to enter the draft, Clarett attempted to enter the NFL draft in 2004, just two years removed from high school.
Clarett's attempt failed after the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled against it. Therefore, Clarett waited a year and entered the 2005 draft.
In the 2005 scouting combine, Clarett had a terrible showing for a running back, running 4.72 and 4.82 40-yard dashes.
However, the Denver Broncos still decided to take him in the third round. Terrible in training camp, though, Clarett was released and has never played in the NFL.
Clarett has since been in and out of jail and legal trouble, meanwhile playing some football in the UFL.
St. Louis Rams: Lawrence Phillips
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Lawrence Phillips was the sixth overall pick in the 1996 draft as a running back.
With known character issues, the Rams still decided to take Phillips, a decision that later turned out to be a mistake. Following multiple run-ins with the law and 23 days in jail, in just two short years with the Rams, Phillips was no longer worth the trouble to the Rams organization and moved on to Miami.
In 2005, Phillips was arrested for charges of assault after running a car into three kids. By 2009, Phillips had been sentenced to 31 years in prison on 14 accounts of assault with a deadly weapon, between the incident with the kids and multiple incidents with his then-girlfriend.
San Francisco 49ers: Jim Druckenmiller
The San Francisco 49ers took quarterback Jim Druckenmiller in the first round of the 1997 draft with hope that he would be the guy to take over where Steve Young left off.
Druckenmiller instead played in just six games in two seasons for the 49ers, throwing one touchdown pass and four interceptions before being traded to the Dolphins and then released.
Druckenmiller's lack of success has landed him on the list of worst busts of all time.
San Diego Chargers: Ryan Leaf
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Widely regarded as the worst NFL draft pick ever, Ryan Leaf was selected by the San Diego Chargers as the second pick of the 1998 NFL draft.
In a draft full of first-round busts, Leaf led the pack. The Chargers traded two first-round draft picks, a second-round draft pick and Pro Bowl running back Eric Metcalf just to move up from the third pick to the second pick and select Leaf. That only added to making this pick the worst.
In his rookie season, Leaf was named the starter but was benched after nine games and 13 interceptions.
Leaf missed the entire 1999 season with a shoulder injury and was released by the Chargers after the 2000 season.
Oakland Raiders: JaMarcus Russell
The Oakland Raiders selected JaMarcus Russell as the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2007.
Immediately things didn't go well with this selection. First, Russell held out of camp his rookie year until the Raiders paid him $35 million guaranteed.
Russell showed very little work ethic after receiving his contract, and things only got worse with time.
Russell's rookie stats consisted of 36-of-66 passing, 373 yards, two touchdowns and four interceptions.
Following two more years of less than stellar performance and almost zero work ethic, the Raiders released Russell after the 2009 season.
In 2010, out of the league, Russell was arrested for possession of codeine syrup.
Kansas City Chiefs: Todd Blackledge
The Kansas City Chiefs selected quarterback Todd Blackledge as the seventh pick in the first round of the 1983 NFL draft.
Following an excellent career at Penn State, in which Blackledge won a national championship, he entered the draft with high expectations.
Selected as the second quarterback in the draft behind John Elway, Blackledge never even sniffed a bit of Elway's success. Not to mention players selected after Blackledge included Dan Marino, Jim Kelly and Ken O'Brien.
In five seasons Blackledge started 24 games for the Chiefs and finished with a QB rating of 62, throwing 32 interceptions to 26 touchdowns.
Arizona Cardinals: Matt Leinart
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Having enjoyed a fantastic career at USC, quarterback Matt Leinart entered the NFL draft with high expectations and a large fan backing. The Cardinals selected Leinart as the 10th overall pick in the 2006 draft to back up Kurt Warner in hopes of eventually being his replacement.
Following Warner's retirement though, Derek Anderson beat Leinart out for the starting job during 2010 training camp. Leinart was then released by the Cardinals and has been with the Texans ever since.
When Matt Schaub got hurt a few weeks ago, Leinart was finally going to receive a second chance, but in his first start he too was injured, ending his season.
Cincinnati Bengals: Akili Smith
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Another bust from the 1999 NFL draft class, quarterback Akili Smith was selected by the Cincinnati Bengals as the third overall pick.
Starting just one season at Oregon following junior college, Smith threw 32 touchdowns his senior year, garnering him a ton of draft attention.
Smith's career with the Bengals lasted four years but resulted in just 17 starts for the team, in which his stats consisted of five touchdown passes to 13 interceptions.
Smith was released in 2002 and never played in another NFL game.
The Bengals have had their share of unfortunate draft picks. In 1995, they selected running back Ki-Jana Carter as the first overall pick, but after suffering a knee injury, Carter never panned out either, landing him a close second to Smith on the list.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Huey Richardson
Huey Richardson landed himself as the Steelers' first-round draft choice in 1991, reportedly only after the organization's three other preferences before him were all chosen.
With an expiring clock and having not thought past the other three players, the team chose Richardson in a flurry before time ran out.
In his rookie season, Richardson played in just five games, struggling as an undersized defensive end. In 1992, the Steelers hired head coach Bill Cowher, who attempted to switch Richardson to the linebacker position—a switch that did not succeed.
According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Cowher asked the Steelers' director of football development at the time, "Can you cut a first-round pick?"
The Steelers did not end up cutting Richardson, but they did trade him.
Never having had a successful NFL career, Richardson has been successful in his other endeavors. He has spent a number of years as a financial analyst for Merrill Lynch.
Cleveland Browns: Tim Couch
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For the third of 1999 NFL draft quarterback selections, we have No. 1 overall pick Tim Couch.
In defense of the Cleveland Browns, almost every team in the league probably would have chosen Couch given the opportunity.
Coming out of the University of Kentucky, Couch broke many records with his lethal air attack, which included a career completion percentage of 67 percent on 795-of-1,184 passing, totaling 74 touchdowns.
When Couch left school as a junior, he held NCAA records for career completion percentage, most completions in a two-year period, most completions in a season and most completions per game in a two-year period.
Shining briefly at one time, Couch's success never consistently transferred to the NFL. Couch showed glimpses of greatness, such as when he led the team to the playoffs in 2002, but injuries plagued his entire career.
Released by the Browns in 2004, Couch did leave a small legacy, setting records, once again, for all-time pass-completion percentage and single game pass-completion percentage, among others.
Baltimore Ravens: Kyle Boller
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A first-round draft pick in 2003, Kyle Boller was another quarterback who showed glimpses of brightness from time to time but never culminated into the player the Ravens believed he could be.
Choosing Boller in the first round was a stretch that Baltimore ultimately paid for. For starters, Boller was not widely regard as a first-round prospect. Furthermore, the Ravens traded their second pick of the 2003 draft and first pick in 2004 just to get him.
Boller's rookie season started out promisingly before he was injured and missed the duration of the season.
In 2004, Boller started all 16 games and put up decent numbers, but the team did not make the playoffs. In 2005, the Ravens were preseason playoff favorites, but once again Boller was injured, causing him to miss eight games. In 2006, Steve McNair was named the team's starter, beginning the end of Boller's relationship with the Ravens.
By 2008 the team cut ties with the quarterback, and Boller has since spent his days floating around the NFL as a backup.
When Raiders quarterback Jason Campbell was injured this season, Boller was named the team's starter for one-and-a-half games before a three-pick first-half performance against the Chiefs landed him back on the bench.
Tennessee Titans: Adam "Pacman" Jones
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Everyone knows the off-field incidents that have hampered Adam "Pacman" Jones' career in the NFL. However, the bad decisions were most costly to the Tennessee Titans, who selected the cornerback as the sixth overall pick in the 2005 NFL draft.
Jones' character issues were no secret, as he was still on probation for a fight that took place during college when the draft took place, but the Titans were willing to take the risk.
In July of 2005, before his first NFL season began, Jones was arrested on charges of assault and vandalism from a previous club altercation.
Jones' rookie season wasn't a bad one, but he once again faced legal troubles as soon as the season ended. Before the 2006 regular season began, Jones had three more run-ins with the law.
Jones had a very successful second season in the NFL, recording 62 tackles and four interceptions at cornerback and 440 punt return yards and three punt return touchdowns on special teams.
Of course, though, the criminal saga continued as soon as the season ended. In February of 2007, Jones was involved in an altercation at a strip club in which he allegedly assaulted a dancer and threatened a security guard's life, and a supposed member of his entourage fired a gun, hitting three people. Many more problems and allegations stemmed from the incident, and Jones received a one-year suspension from the NFL via commissioner Roger Goodell.
The Titans traded Jones to the Cowboys prior to his reinstatement. Jones has since played for the Cowboys and Bengals, but his questionable behavior has always remained a factor.
Houston Texans: David Carr
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Quarterback David Carr was drafted by the Texans as the first overall pick in the 2002 draft out of Fresno State. Carr's lack of success in his career since being drafted has already drawn him many comparisons to some of the worst quarterback busts in NFL history.
In his rookie season, Carr was sacked a record 76 times, a problem that the Texans did not entirely credit to the young quarterback.
The Texans gave Carr ample opportunities to prove himself, starting the quarterback for five straight years. However, Carr was unsuccessful, finishing with a 22-53 record in Houston and throwing 65 interceptions to 49 touchdowns.
In 2007, the Texans waived Carr.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Derrick Harvey
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Derrick Harvey's case as the worst draft selection in Jacksonville Jaguars history was solidified this offseason when he was waived by the team after just three short years.
Selected by the team as the eighth overall pick in the 2008 NFL draft, the Jaguars made a giant trade with the Ravens in order to get Harvey. Jacksonville sacrificed its second first-round pick in 2008, as well as two third-round picks and a future fourth-round selection.
Harvey held out for 33 days, the longest of any rookie, before the Jaguars gave him a $23.8 million contract, with $17.175 guaranteed.
Harvey gave the Jaguars three years of underachievement and a career-best 19 tackles and 3.5 sacks in 2008.
Harvey was signed by the Broncos this season, but he has barely sniffed the field, accumulating just four tackles.
Indianapolis Colts: Steve Emtman
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The Indianapolis Colts' decision to draft Steve Emtman as the first overall pick in the 1992 draft did not, at the time, seem like a bad one considering his unbelievable college career.
Playing at defensive end at Washington, Emtman played just two seasons but still landed himself in the College Football Hall of Fame. In just two years Emtman led his team to a Rose Bowl win and a national championship, and as a defensive player he was thought to be the best player on the team.
Emtman's NFL career garnered nowhere near the same level of success. Battling injuries for most of his career, Emtman ended his first three seasons with the Colts on the injured reserve list. Emtman finished six seasons in the NFL with just eight sacks.
New England Patriots: Kenneth Sims
Kenneth Sims was a defensive end All-American out of Texas who the New England Patriots selected first overall in the 1982 NFL draft.
Although Sims' health was a question going into the draft, he passed all of the tests and was expected by everyone to be the No. 1 choice.
Sims, however, never lived up to expectations and instead lived up to his questionable health and injury bill.
Sims played an entire season just once and was placed on injured reserve multiple times. His best season was highlighted by 5.5 sacks in 1985.
In 1990, Sims was released by the Patriots.
New York Jets: Blair Thomas
Blair Thomas was a running back selected as the second overall pick in the 1990 NFL draft by the New York Jets. In choosing Thomas, the Jets passed on the NFL's future all-time leading rusher, Emmitt Smith.
In Thomas' rookie season, he seemed to be living up to the hype, leading all NFL rookies in yards per carry.
Thomas' time with the Jets, though, went on to consist of just 2,000 yards and five touchdowns in four seasons.
Thomas was released after the 1993 season, and his NFL career lasted just six total years.
Buffalo Bills: Mike Williams
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Widely regarded as the top draft prospect in the 2002 draft, offensive lineman Mike Williams was selected by the Buffalo Bills as the fourth overall pick.
A 6'6", 360-pounder with good footwork, Williams seemed like an excellent choice. Named a starter immediately, Williams received a good amount of time at right tackle but failed miserably. His athleticism eventually fell to the wayside with a lack of desire and weight gain, and Williams was released.
Miami Dolphins: Yatil Green
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Selected by the Miami Dolphins as the 15th overall pick in the 1997 NFL draft, Yatil Green's story is one of what could have been.
Following a successful career with the Miami Hurricanes, Green's NFL career was a series of unfortunate events.
In the first day of training camp with the Dolphins, Yatil tore his ACL and quad, putting an end to his rookie season immediately.
The following season, Green did it again.
After two ACL injuries, Green was never the same. In 1999, he played in nine games but was unimpressive, resulting in his being cut from Miami.
His career ended with him being cut by the Jets and then the Raiders.
Dallas Cowboys: Rod Hill
Rod Hill was a cornerback who was selected in the first round of the 1982 NFL draft by the Dallas Cowboys.
Hill was extremely athletic but not a proven talent at cornerback. Regardless, the Cowboys reached and took him almost two rounds earlier than he was projected.
Hill lasted just two years with the Cowboys and recorded two interceptions.
Hill bounced around the league for a while before ending up in the Canadian Football League, playing for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
There, Hill was successful and still holds the Blue Bombers' interception record.
New York Giants: Ron Dayne
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The Heisman Trophy winner in 1999 as a running back at Wisconsin, Ron Dayne was known as the "Dayne Train" for his ability to run over opposing defenses. In his four-year career Dayne set the NCAA rushing yardage record, one that he still holds today.
It was no surprise when Dayne was selected as the 11nth pick by the New York Giants in the 2000 NFL draft.
In his rookie season, Dayne accomplished what he was brought in to do: provide a nice supplement to Tiki Barber. Dayne rushed for 770 yards, and the two backs helped guide the Giants to the Super Bowl.
From there, though, Dayne's production went down rather than up. Coach Jim Fassel was not in favor of the big back's power running style nor his size. Failing to drop weight over the next two years, Dayne's workload diminished. Fassel was eventually fired, and in 2004 Tom Coughlin was hired. Dayne finally cut some weight and had a promising preseason but never saw any ample playing time.
Dayne's contract expired following the season, and the Giants did not re-sign him.
Philadelphia Eagles: Mike Mamula
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Mike Mamula was a linebacker/defensive end who the Philadelphia Eagles selected with the seventh overall pick in the 1995 NFL draft.
Coming out of college, Mamula's draft stock was not high, as he was widely considered a "tweener," but having had a very successful combine, his stock rose dramatically.
The Eagles traded away their 12th overall pick, as well two second-round selections, to Tampa Bay in order to receive the seventh overall pick (and two third-round picks) to get Mamula.
While Mamula never panned out, the player who the Bucs selected with their pick, a guy by the name of Warren Sapp, panned out quite nicely.
Mamula was with the Eagles for six seasons at defensive end and played 77 games, accumulating 31.5 sacks.
Gaining the name the "Workout Warrior," injuries forced Mamula to retire in 2000.
Washington Redskins: Heath Shuler
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Finishing his career as one of the top quarterbacks in the SEC, Heath Shuler set numerous passing records at Tennessee.
The Washington Redskins took Shuler as the third overall pick in the 2004 NFL draft in hopes of landing a franchise quarterback.
Quarterback Mark Rypien led the franchise to a Super Bowl championship during the 1991 season. However, Rypien was released before the 1994 season, and coming off a 4-12 1993 season, the Redskins were looking for a solution.
Shuler instead was another quarterback who was plagued by injury. After a successful run in his first two seasons, Shuler was eventually benched in favor of the Redskins' 1994 first-round draft pick, Gus Frerotte.
In 1996, Shuler was traded to the Saints, but in 1997 he suffered a serious foot injury that would eventually lead to having to call it a career in 1998.
New Orleans Saints: Russell Erxleben
Explaining the Saints' worst-ever draft day decision is as simple as saying they drafted a kicker with the 11th overall pick in the first round.
With their top pick in the 1979 draft, Erxleben was a kicker with a very successful college career, something that still will never explain this draft choice.
Furthermore, not only did the Saints take a kicker, but Erxleben ended up being primarily a punter, and a mediocre one at that. Erxleben made a career total of four field goals and lasted four years before the Saints released him.
Adding insult to injury, one of Erxleben's biggest blunders actually came on a throw in overtime against the Atlanta Falcons. With the score tied 34-34 and the Saints facing a chance to win, the field-goal snap was botched, but Erxleben attempted to save the play by making a pass. The pass, though, was intercepted by the Falcons and returned for the game-winning touchdown.
Atlanta Falcons: Aundray Bruce
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Aundray Bruce was taken by the Atlanta Falcons as the first overall pick in the 1988 NFL draft. An All-American out of Auburn, Bruce drew comparisons to Hall of Famer Lawrence Taylor.
With few appealing prospects in the draft, Atlanta attempted to trade the pick, but drawing no interest from other teams, it selected Bruce.
Bruce's rookie season wasn't terrible, as he recorded six sacks and two interceptions, but his productivity never really increased over the next three years.
Bruce jumped around for the Falcons, playing offense and defense as a tight end, linebacker and defensive end, and over four years with the team accumulated 16 sacks and one reception.
Bruce did somehow manage to sustain an 11-year career in the NFL but totaled just 32 sacks and four interceptions.
Carolina Panthers: Rae Carruth
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The Rae Carruth story is one that has been told many times as a career that was ended by a terrible tragedy.
Chosen as the 27th overall pick in the 1997 draft by the Carolina Panthers, Carruth spent three mediocre seasons with the Panthers.
Making the All-Rookie team his first season with 545 yards and four touchdowns, Carruth seemed likely to develop into a notable pro.
Carruth played in just two games in 1998, and in 1999 came his demise.
On November 16, 1999, Carruth's girlfriend, who was carrying his unborn baby, was shot multiple times by a friend of Carruth's. The child was saved, but Carruth's girlfriend died a month later, and Carruth was later found guilty of conspiracy to murder. Carruth is now facing 18 to 24 years in prison.
The Panthers cut Carruth shortly after the incident, citing a morals clause in his contract.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Keith McCants
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One of the greatest defensive players in Alabama football history, Keith McCants was selected as the fourth overall pick in the 1990 draft by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
McCants was an excellent pass-rusher in college but failed to adjust to the NFL as a tweener, fighting between being a defensive end and a linebacker.
A big linebacker, McCants was switched to defensive end when he could not catch on to the defensive schemes. In three years with Tampa, McCants recorded 12 sacks, and he was eventually cut in 1993 during training camp.
McCants' NFL career ended in 1995.